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UPDATE 1-Chrysler says snow, ice pressured Dec U.S. auto sales

Bernie Woodall and Ben Klayman
Friday, 3 Jan 2014 | 8:58 AM ET

* Chrysler sees 1 percent gain in overall U.S. auto sales

* Chrysler sales up 6 percent

* Major automakers to report U.S. sales later Friday

DETROIT, Jan 3 (Reuters) - Chrysler Group LLC on Friday said that late-month snow and ice storms pressured U.S. auto sales, causing the industry to show only a 1 percent gain over last year, missing expectations of a 4 percent increase.

"It looks like the bad weather kept the sales penned in," said Chrysler spokesman Ralph Kisiel.

December's late-month holiday period is generally one of the biggest selling times at U.S. auto dealerships each year.

Chrysler expects the industry to show a December annualized selling rate of 15.8 million vehicles, which would miss expectations of a rate of 16 million but still be up 4 percent from a year ago.

Each month, auto sales are seen as an early indicator of consumer spending.

Chrysler on Friday reported a 6 percent gain last month in its U.S. auto sales, to 161,007, its best December since 2007, but still narrowly missed analyst expectations. For the year, Chrysler's sales rose 9 percent to 1.8 million vehicles.

It was the fourth straight year of annual sales gains for Chrysler, which underwent a 2009 bankruptcy and restructuring. Chrysler has now had 45 consecutive months of year-over-year sales growth.

Jeep sales rose 34 percent in the month, led by the new Cherokee, which sold four times as well in December as the vehicle it replaced, the Jeep Liberty, did a year ago.

Five analysts had expected Chrysler to gain about 7 percent over last year's December sales.

Chrysler, which had a U.S. market share of 10.4 percent through November, is the fourth in U.S. sales behind leaders General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Toyota Motor Corp. Those and other automakers will report U.S. sales later on Friday.

Chrysler is the first of the major automakers in the U.S. market to report December sales.

Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters see the annualized sales rate for December at 16 million vehicles, a level that has been topped only in November and August last year.

For all of 2013, U.S. auto sales are expected to finish near 15.6 million, up about 8 percent.

While some economists and analysts expect 2014 sales to rise to between 16 million and 16.5 million vehicles, there is growing concern that competition will intensify, leading to higher incentives and lower profits for companies.

Research firm TrueCar.com said vehicle transaction prices fell by an average of $200 per vehicle in December, or 0.6 percent, over last year while incentives were up $103 per vehicle, or 4 percent.

Chrysler is majority owned by Italy's Fiat. Earlier this week, the two companies announced that Fiat would buy the remainder of Chrysler that is currently owned by a United Auto Workers healthcare trust, for $4.35 billion. That deal is expected to close by Jan. 20.

Chrysler's Ram truck brand showed a 17 percent December sales gain, but its Dodge brand sales fell 9 percent, while Chrysler brand sales fell 21 percent. Fiat sales rose 1 percent.